Skiing Along the Italian Border

By Rudy Stauffer
 
During World War II, I was a corporal in the Swiss Army Mountain Division. We were charged with patrolling the Italian border and trained, in groups of two or three, as guerrillas. One time, my friend Alois and I skied up to about 11,483 feet and set up our tent next to an empty Swiss Alpine Hut on Allalinhorn (during the war, huts didn’t have attendants). We had a nice day climbing the peak before returning to our tent.
 
We were just about ready to start our dinner when we noticed that one of the hut’s second-story windows was partially open. Alois climbed up and opened the door and I walked in with all of our equipment. We spent a very good night in the hut, but awoke to voices from a group of skiers heading up the hill. Alois quickly hauled out our equipment and I locked the door and rappelled out the window, and we were packing up our tent as the group with their guide arrived.
 
As we had lots of bread, we gave most of it to the guide. He did not want us to leave without giving us something in return, so he opened a bottle of wine. Can you imagine what a third of a bottle does to a person at that altitude with no breakfast? Well, we both were drunk! But we put our skis on anyway and started skiing right away, straight downhill.
 
We skied about 100 feet, fell, laughed our head off, skied another 100 feet and fell again. After a while, we sobered up a little and roped up. I was up front and when I came upon a big crevasse I started across the snow bridge that spanned it without asking my friend to belay me! Naturally, I fell in the middle of the snow bridge—but thankfully it held. We would have both fallen into the crevasse if the bridge had given way. That really sobered us up, and we made it to the next village without any trouble.
 
Rudy Stauffer will be 97 in March. He has been an outdoorsman his entire life and has packed with llamas for twenty-five years, from 1983 (at 66 years of age) to 2008 (at age 91). He owned and operated Crystal Springs Llamas, leading over 150 lunch and overnight treks, selling over 400 Flaming Star packs, and teaching 620 packing seminars in California, Oregon, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France. He also wrote a training booklet called “Llama Packing with Rudy” and was nicknamed “Llama Man Extraordinaire” by Llamas Magazine in 1998.